WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
For a long time, the only thing that explained the popularity of Venezia to me was the well-known favoritism Orleanians have for bare-bones, well-worn joints. Hurricane Katrina, however, put so much long-standing water into Venezia that a total renovation was required for it to reopen. This they did, but without changing the look of either the interior or exterior one bit. It’s as if the flood never happened.
But something else happened, as inexplicable as it was gratifying. The food became much, much better. While they say that everything’s exactly the same as it was before the storm, the witness of my palate says otherwise. The murky, overly rich or sweet, enormous piles of overcooked New Orleans-style Italian food has come to the brink of being polished. Everything tastes brighter, fresher, and more exciting. Meanwhile, if there’s been any downsizing of the portions (which, frankly, would be welcome), I haven’t seen it. Amazing!
The menu is divided between classic home-style Italian dishes heavy with thick, long-cooked red sauces, and Creole seafood concoctions, with an emphasis on cream sauces loaded with crabmeat, shrimp, and/or crawfish. What used to be a mess is now balanced and borderline elegant. Pizza–long a major specialty–is the only item here that seems less good than I remember. This could be because of the tremendous advances in the pizza-making arts elsewhere around town. I’d still say it’s above average: old-style, thin crust, restrained amounts of sauce and cheese.
Venezia opened in 1957, at a time when New Orleans Italian cooking had evolved far from its roots, even though everybody swore this was the way it was all cooked in Sicily when they emigrated seventy years earlier. It was also a time when pizza was catching on across America. Venezia was one of New Orleans’ first vendors of pizza, and the habit stuck. The restaurant took very deep water after Katrina, but opened a second location in Old Jefferson (now gone) while rebuilding. The old place needed a renovation anyway.
One big room with miscellaneous Italian travel posters on the walls. The kitchen is semi-open, enough so you can monitor the pizza ovens as you wait patiently for yours. The service staff–the best members of which are women who have been at it for a long time–has a style all its own, and wishes you would listen to them.
»Fried eggplant sticks
Crabmeat stuffed mushrooms
Spinach & artichoke dip
Zuppa del giorno
»House special salad (salami, provolone, tomatoes, artichoke, olives)
Spinach & artichoke bread
»Meatballs or Italian sausage & spaghetti
Spaghetti with meat sauce
»Eggplant, chicken or veal parmigiana, pasta
»Baked pasta shells stuffed with three cheeses, red sauce
Veal pannee, fettuccine alfredo
»Eggplant Vatican (crawfish, shrimp, crabmeat cream sauce)
Chicken or veal marsala
Chicken supreme (with shrimp, crawfish, dill cream sauce)
»Trout Cynthia (with shrimp, crawfish, dill cream sauce)
Grilled chicken, pasta and red sauce
»Pizzas to order
FOR BEST RESULTS
The list of specials has provided the best food lately, particularly in the seafood department. Even though the entree will be big enough to serve as the entire meal and then some, you might want to get a salad or the great fried eggplant. Either is big enough to split at least two ways.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The red sauce has a flavor profile that even a child would like. Many customers here clearly still have a conscious inner child, or a strong sense of nostalgia–but why not? The seafood dishes with the cream sauces are way over the top.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +2
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +1
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations